The iconic Blue Bell ice cream is again being supplied to a large area of the southeast, including most everything south of a line stretching from New Mexico to the Carolinas. Not all of the 66 flavors are back that were available before Blue Bell was associated last year with a multi-state outbreak of Listeriosis the resulted in three deaths. The privately-held Brenham, TX-based manufacturer reacted to the outbreak by recalling products that were currently on the market and that were made by any of its facilities including ice cream, yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks. Blue Bell banana pudding pintThe outbreak was both complex and unusual in that the ten illnesses over four states spanned the period from 2010 to 2015. All involved hospitalizations and three died. In addition to withdrawing their products from the market in 2015, Blue Bell shutdown its production facilities in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas, depriving its customers of what many consider to be the nation’s best ice cream. But the fourth largest ice cream producer was back in business by year’s end, and by now its back in most of its old territory. However, the work of coming back from a major outbreak continues. In “root cause assessment reports” to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Blue Bell officials reported recently on the steps taken at its Brenham, TX, and Broken Arrow, OK, facilities to identify and fix Listeria problems. Listeria was found in ice cream products made in both the Texas and Oklahoma facilities. “After the discovery of Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) in certain ice cream  products manufactured by our Brenham facility, we began investigatory, sampling, and remediation efforts to control the situation, ultimately choosing to voluntarily shut down operations,” Bell Blue’s root cause assessment reports says. While operations were suspended, Blue Bell focused on the potential sources of the Listeria, bringing in outside experts to assist. The company’s officials say their goal has been to control and eliminate potential sources of Listeria inside their facilities. The report on the Brenham facility says efforts focused on areas where it found Listeria, on equipment and facility design, and employee practices. Some equipment was “disassembled and throughly cleaned.” Other equipment was removed from the facility and apparently replaced. The report on the Broken Bow facility was similar. “We focused critical attention on any equipment associated with presumptive positive environment findings for finished product, as well as on equipment and facility design and employee practices,” Blue Bell officials reported. In Oklahoma, Blue Bell also discovered a drain in a room where equipment was stored after cleaning was emitting Listeria. “In sum, we believe that Listeria likely entered the facility through various potential sources and eventually became present in the draw system,” the company report says. The reports were made public on March 24, 2016. After suspending production at all three facilities, Blue Blue opted to work on bringing its two smaller facilities in Sylacauga, AL, and Broken Arrow, OK, back ahead of its largest facility in Texas. No illnesses were associated with the Alabama facility, but Listeria contamination was found inside the plant. Blue Bell ice cream production resumed in 2015 before the holidays. It is now being made at all three of the facilities. A test-and-hold procedure has been put into place to check ice cream for contamination before shipping. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)